Wight is a Middle English word, from Old English wiht, and used to describe a creature or living sentient being. It is akin to Old High German wiht, meaning a creature or thing. In its original usage the word wight described a living human being. More recently, the word has been used within the fantasy genre of literature to describe undead or wraith-like creatures: corpses with a part of their decayed soul still in residence, often draining life from their victims. The earliest example of this usage in English is in William Morris's translation of the Grettis Saga, where draug is translated as "barrow wight". Notable later examples include the undeadBarrow-wights from the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and the level-draining wights of Dungeons & Dragonsrole-playing game.
The English word is cognate with other Germanic words such as Dutch wicht, German Wicht, Old Norse vættr, Norwegian vette, Swedish vätte, Danish vætte. Modern High GermanWicht means 'small person, dwarf,' and also 'unpleasant person,' while in Low German the word means 'girl.' The Wicht, Wichtel or Wichtelchen of Germanic folklore is most commonly translated into English as an imp, a small, shy character who often does helpful domestic chores when nobody is looking (as in the Tale of the Cobbler's Shoes). These terms are not related to the English word witch. In Scandinavian folklore, too, wights are elusive creatures not unlike elves, capable of mischief as well as of help. In German and Dutch language the word Bösewicht or Booswicht points out an evildoer, "Bösewichte haben keine Lieder" means they (do not make merry) are unpleasant folk.
In the book Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, barrow wights are cruel, evil spirits of the dead men of the Northern Kingdom of Arnor and the realm of Cardolan who fell in battle against the Witch-king of Angmar.
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin, wights are a category of undead creatures, usually humans or animals who have been killed and turned by the Others (aka the White Walkers) or by other wights. They have pallid skin, black hands, and fierce ice-blue eyes, and are described as being virtually impervious to all forms of attack, even forcibly amputated limbs are described as animated. Their only known weakness is fire; unlike the White Walkers themselves who are vulnerable to obsidian and Valyrian steel.
In the MMORPG RuneScape, the Mahjarrat Sliske is notorious for his collection of warrior wights.
In the Warhammer Fantasy Battle setting, wights are deathless warriors from ancient times brought back to life by Dark Magic. This power not only revives them, but twists their armour and imbues them with fell power. Their weapons bear such potent enchantments that a single cut is enough to kill a living human.
In the Warcraft setting, Wights are creatures similar in appearance to traditional representations of Frankenstein's monster - large, hulking, pallid skinned monsters that were once human, but have been made mindlessly insane through the power of the Scourge.
Examples of the word used in classic English literature and poetry
"In this by-place of nature there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane, who sojourned, or, as he expressed it, "tarried," in Sleepy Hollow, for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity."